Folly of ruling by the iron rod

25th November 1994 at 00:00
The Association of Metropolitan Authorities' proposals for stronger powers for local education authorities (TES, November 11) have much to commend them. I look forward to examining them in detail; but if your report accurately represents the tone as well as the content of the proposals, it may be that an important lesson of the Tories' awful years of experimentation has not been learned.

Elsewhere in the same issue, you quote Peter Kilfoyle MP, Labour's shadow schools minister, as saying, quite rightly, that mediocrity "cannot be allowed", particularly in inner-city schools. The AMA strongly hints that greater LEA direction and oversight is a panacea for school improvement. But the problem is not so easily solved. Regrettably, poor standards in some schools existed when LEAs had greater powers, and persist under LMS.

The AMA seems to think that if LEAs were able to lean harder on headteachers - who would then, presumably, lean harder on their staff - better schools would be the automatic outcome. This is as wrong-headed as the Tories' assumption that simply by publishing exam results, they would get parents and governors to perform the same leaning exercise.

Very few people in education want poor results, although too many are prepared to put up well-intentioned excuses based on the undeniable difficulties which beset a large minority of young people in inner-city communities.

LEAs do have power to intervene in the isolated cases where a school is clearly failing, and to remove delegated functions. We have, with much regret, had to do so with one school in Islington, an action widely accepted as correct in the circumstances.

In general, LEAs and central Government have to abandon the idea that they can get better schools by order. The days of the education command economy are gone. LEAs must lead by example, supporting good practice in schools and making it crystal clear to the professionals that - particularly for pupils in the inner city - good schools which promote achievement and examination success are the only opportunity of enabling children to contribute to a decent future for themselves, their communities and the country. This is as obvious to most parents, teachers and governors as it is to local and national politicians.

LEAs will find that their leadership is accepted and welcomed when they act in partnership with schools to achieve these goals by giving them a clear framework of objectives and consistent support and advice. Elected councillors and education officers are the conductors of the education orchestra. Remove them, and the result is chaos and disharmony. But we should not pretend that we can also play all the instruments.

PHIL KELLY

Chair

Education committee

London Borough of Islington

Upper Street, London N1

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